PFAS team goes on sans a di­rec­tor

Agency still tests sites, re­sponds to re­ports of con­tam­i­nant

The Detroit News - - METRO - BY BETH LEBLANC The De­troit News

Lans­ing — A multi-agency state task force as­sem­bled to tackle a ubiq­ui­tous chem­i­cal con­tam­i­nant across Michi­gan con­tin­ues to op­er­ate un­der the Whit­mer ad­min­is­tra­tion, but with­out a di­rec­tor or the ex­ec­u­tive or­der that cre­ated it.

Repub­li­can for­mer Gov. Rick Sny­der’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der that formed the Michi­gan PFAS Ac­tion Re­sponse Team ex­pired on Dec. 31. The group’s di­rec­tor, Carol Isaacs, re­tired from the task force around the same time.

De­spite that, MPART con­tin­ues to sam­ple, test and re­spond to sites with known or a po­ten­tial con­tam­i­nant, Michi­gan Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Qual­ity spokesman Scott Dean said.

Like­wise, the state Depart­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices is con­tin­u­ing to col­lect blood serum sam­ples from res­i­dents in Kent County to study the link be­tween drink­ing wa­ter with per- and polyflu­o­roalkyl sub­stances, known as PFAS, and the re­sult­ing in­crease in a per­son’s body.

“We con­tinue to op­er­ate as be­fore, but what the multi-agency team calls it­self and how we’re or­ga­nized will be some­thing the new ad­min­is­tra­tion de­cides,” Dean said, not­ing Gov. Gretchen Whit­mer has em­pha­sized the im­por­tance of clean drink­ing wa­ter and PFAS re­sponse.

Whit­mer’s of­fice did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

Cre­ated at the tail end of 2017, MPART tested hun­dreds of com­mu­nity wa­ter sup­plies, school wa­ter sup­plies, day care cen­ters and some pri­vate wells in 2018 for PFAS, a chem­i­cal long used in fire­fight­ing foam, tan­ner­ies, metal platers, Scotch­gard and Te­flon.

PFAS has some links to health risks such as thy­roid dis­ease, in­creased choles­terol lev­els, and kid­ney and tes­tic­u­lar can­cers.

The group said the test­ing was some of the most ex­ten­sive in the na­tion and led to the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of sky-high PFAS lev­els in Parch­ment and a school in Grand Haven. MPART also sur­veyed more than 1,000 fire sta­tions and air­ports for the PFAS-con­tain­ing fire­fight­ing foam.

The state has is­sued do-noteat fish ad­vi­sories for sev­eral Michi­gan wa­ter­ways be­cause of PFAS con­tam­i­na­tion and warned peo­ple not to eat deer in the Clark’s Marsh area of Os­coda in Oc­to­ber.

The state’s PFAS Sci­ence Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee in De­cem­ber is-

sued a 90-page re­port after study­ing the is­sue for months. It noted that the lev­els of PFAS lower than 70 parts per tril­lion — the cur­rent state and U.S. En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency health ad­vi­sory level for drink­ing wa­ter — can hurt hu­man health.

The re­port stopped short of rec­om­mend­ing a new level, but pro­moted a new level based on tox­i­co­log­i­cal and epi­demi­o­log­i­cal data. For­mer Di­rec­tor Isaacs at the time said a new stan­dard could be de­vel­oped in “a mat­ter of weeks.”

The state has urged the EPA to pro­vide guid­ance, or even a new fed­eral stan­dard, for safe PFAS lev­els in drink­ing wa­ter. But the guide­lines are un­likely to ar­rive any­time soon be­cause of the par­tial fed­eral gov­ern­ment shut­down.

The panel’s rec­om­men­da­tion came more than a year after then-Demo­cratic Rep. Win­nie Brinks of Grand Rapids had in­tro­duced a bill that would lower the drink­ing wa­ter health ad­vi­sory level from 70 ppt to 5 ppt. The bill by Brinks, who is now a state se­na­tor, never gained a com­mit­tee hear­ing.

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